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Wed 10/18


My challenges are my blessings.
Wed 10/18


My challenges are my blessings.
—Philippians 4:13
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”



October 18 2023 Devotion Audio

The Pace God Sets for You

By: Tia McCollors



The Pace God Sets for You

By: Tia McCollors

I’ve lived in a metropolitan area for over half my life, but I’m truly a country girl at heart. I woke up to deer on the lawn, caught fireflies at dusk, and have come in contact with my share of nature. I relish the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Georgia to my North Carolina hometown. It’s an opportunity to reflect on my past and to contemplate future goals. 

I was headed up I-85 for an annual family visit, and as usual I was contemplating life. I’m behind, I thought. I hadn’t accomplished as much as I’d hoped. There were ideas that hadn’t seen the light of day, unfinished projects, things that I’d intended to achieve that I hadn’t scratched the surface of. Things were going slow, sometimes from my own volition but often because—let’s face it—things don’t always go as planned. 

While visiting my parents, I headed to the grocery store, and as I rounded a curve, I noticed that the cars ahead had slowed and were cautiously veering into the oncoming lane in an attempt to dodge an obstruction in the road. It was a turtle, unbothered by the whisk of cars. In fact, on my return trip from the store, the turtle was still making its slow way across the road.  

As silly as it may sound, I realized it’s okay to be the turtle. I could stay on course and move at the pace God has set for me. Moving forward—however slow—is still progress.


October 18 2023 Story

The Old Bur Oak Tree

By: Mark Hirsch

That tree. A lonely bur oak. Sturdy trunk. Gnarly, barren branches. It sat in the middle of a snow-covered Wisconsin cornfield. For 19 years I’d driven past it on the way to and from my job as a photojournalist for the newspaper and never given it a second thought. Until right now, on this January afternoon. I parked my truck on the side of the road and looked more closely. It was just a tree. So why couldn’t I pull myself away?  

Maybe it was because, in a way, I felt like that tree. I too was stripped bare. I’d been let go from my newspaper job. Then, just when I was establishing myself as a commercial photographer, my whole world was, well…uprooted.  

Three months earlier, in October, I was in Watertown, South Dakota, finishing a shoot for an agricultural client. A fantastic assignment with great light and weather. Afterward, I was on the highway back to my hotel, planning to stop at a coffee shop on the way. The Eagles were on the radio. Life was good.  

The speed limit was 35 mph. I was in the inside lane. There was a truck in front of me. I put my blinker on, ready to switch to the outside lane to turn in to the coffee shop. That’s all I remember.  

“Sir! Sir! Are you okay?” a woman shouted.  

Groggily I opened my eyes. My head pounded. “Who are you?” I asked. “Where am I? What happened?”  

“You’ve been in an accident,” the woman said.  

In the emergency room a doctor shone a light in my eyes. “Someone up here must like you,” he said. “You’re lucky to be alive.”  

A concrete truck had turned off the shoulder to the right and the metal chutes used to pour the concrete broke loose and swung directly into traffic, ramming through my windshield. The chutes struck me in the head so hard they tore the headrest off my seat.  

I was diagnosed with a severe concussion. A CT scan, X-rays and a neurological exam showed no bleeding on the brain, so they weren’t going to admit me to the hospital. I figured after some pain pills and rest, I’d be fine.  

“Mark,” the doctor said, “it’s crucial that you take it easy. That’s not optional when it comes to recovering from a head injury.” “Sure,” I said. “I can do that.” It was just a headache. I would get over it and get back to my life, to my work.  

They called me a cab and sent me back to my hotel with instructions not to go to sleep. I spent the night pondering how and why I was still alive.  

The next afternoon a friend flew to South Dakota to bring me home. I was suffering from sleeplessness, severe headaches and blurry vision. I went to see my own physician.  

“Mark, you can’t work,” he told me. “For the next three months you need to just rest and relax. No strain on your eyes. No photography. No lifting anything heavy. Rest. Relax. Recover. That’s your job.”  

After several months I didn’t feel one bit closer to being myself. Not being able to work and having my wife, Denee, and our kids tiptoe around me at home made me sink into a depression. What if I was never again able to do what I did best? What if I’d lost my gift for photography? How would I provide for my family? I spent a lot of time on the couch with my old cell phone, scrolling through my Facebook feed. Jealous of everyone who was up and about, living their lives. Little by little, though, my condition improved.  

“Why don’t you treat yourself to a new phone?” Denee asked not long after the New Year. “You’re due for an upgrade. Get something nice since you’re on it so much.”  

“I guess,” I said. That afternoon, I drove to the store and picked up a shiny new iPhone. I posted about it on Facebook.  

“Isn’t the camera on it great?” a photographer friend of mine replied.  

She had to be kidding. The camera on a phone? That was for amateurs. “I’ve never used it,” I typed back.  

“Mark, you’ve got to treat it like a regular camera! You won’t believe it!”  

Later, on my way home from running errands, I thought about my friend’s challenge to treat my iPhone like a camera. I turned onto the road I live on. Something made me park on the edge of a snow-covered cornfield. Now here I was, staring at an old tree I had driven by for years. That old bur oak called to me. I climbed out and walked through the field to photograph its lovely balanced form and dark, jagged branches juxtaposed against the overcast sky.  

I posted the picture on my Facebook page. I got a few “likes” and positive comments. Over the next few months I made a photo every day featuring artistic vignettes of the midwestern landscape. I strove to make photos that inspired me.  

One evening at sunset I was following the same route home, thinking about what to photograph for the day. The light was wonderful, but I needed something more. I turned onto my road and there was that tree. I parked and walked to the same spot to admire its silhouette of gnarled, leafless branches once again. This time it was cast against the colorful light of sunset. I shared that photo on Facebook too and went back to making new visual discoveries with my iPhone.  

Several weeks later, a friend wrote, “Dude, what’s with you and that tree? Maybe you should take a photo of it every day.”  

A photo a day of a tree? I’d spent almost 20 years as a photojournalist constantly chasing the moment. How many moments could there be with a tree standing alone in a cornfield?  

Then again, what else did I have going on?  

I set myself a goal: make a photo of the tree every day for a year and post it to Facebook. I went out while Denee and the kids slept, or when she was at work and they were at school. That tree became my muse.  

In one of my early photos, I captured the waning moon hanging over the tree with the sunrise painting it a bloodred against the morning sky. Almost every day I discovered something new: a bird darting from the leaves at dusk, a moth camouflaged against the bark, eggs in a nest sheltered by leaves. The tree was being transformed right before my eyes, from barren and lonely to wondrous and full of life, a work of God’s creation.  

I woke up every morning excited to see what awaited me. Photographing that tree may not have been a job, but it had become my mission, my strange calling. Was it the crazy answer to my desperate prayer?  

One day I got home just as Denee was about to leave for work. “Where were you?” she asked.  

“I was taking a photo of an oak tree in the middle of a cornfield.”  

Her next question to me was, “Why?” She was worried my head injury was worse than anyone realized. But it turned out that that tree was getting my head in a better place than it had been in a long time. It was inspiring me and giving me the motivation I needed to get back to who I was.  

The more images I posted, the more the comments rolled in on Facebook.  

“Your photos of this magnificent oak are a wonderful way to begin my day!” read one.  

“That tree reminds me of a verse in Psalms,” said another.  

Someone posted the verse, Psalm 1:3, beneath my photo. Blessed are they who delight in the law of the Lord, it says, for “they are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”  

If ever a verse was meant for a particular person, that verse seemed meant for me. My hometown paper caught wind of my project. Soon, thousands of Facebook followers around the world were waiting for my daily posts. For the very last photo, I invited everyone to join me at that old bur oak. Denee and the kids, my parents, my brothers and sister, they were all there, along with 300 others (and 12 dogs). People who couldn’t come sent objects to decorate the tree.  

Today, “That Tree” has 40,000 followers, and I’ve published a book featuring my photos. God used the beauty in my own backyard to give me a new purpose and show me that in whatever I do with him, I will prosper.


The next time you are faced with a challenge, what mindset will help you most?

God will give me the strength to persevere through whatever life throws at me.

Every step I take is a vital part of my journey, no matter how small it may seem.

As I face adversity, I can choose to focus on God’s blessings within it.

May God’s love encourage and guide your steps today. We’ll see you again soon!

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